For the longest time, owning an NFL team has been the surest bet in sports. Ratings increase along with ever-soaring TV revenues. Need more TV revenue? Just snap your fingers and turn a new day of the week into an NFL game.
Local sponsors pay up cold, hard cash to feel part of the team with the “official” such-and-such moniker attached to their product’s name. In stadiums, signage increases whenever the team snaps its fingers. Not to mention, season-ticket increases at the whim of each individual team.
Those were the good old days. And I am here to tell you the good old days are in the rearview mirror. That’s not to say owning an NFL team isn’t still one of the best gigs you can get. It’s just that ownership’s privileges now include an awful lot of dirty work to still bring in the astronomical profits.
That includes getting into the trenches and letting your fan base feel you care about them. More and more, it seems the local team is taking a far different road than implied when team president Dick Cass wrote his now-famous letter to Ravens supporters, i.e. personal seat license holders. In that letter in December, Cass essentially told fans the team didn’t take them for granted, and while he acknowledged the part that the kneeling incident in London played in the negativism shown toward the team, he and the management understood there were more reasons.
Since then, what have fans seen from the team? Owner Steve Bisciotti did a solo “State of the Ravens Q&A” with the media. Afterward, we were made aware by team officials that not every owner does this after his/her season. The construction started in earnest to get those new escalators installed at M&T Bank Stadium, and the massive expansion of the Ravens training facility has been concluded.
But what was intimated in Cass’ letter to the season ticket-holding partners was that the team felt this year’s no-show levels were higher and the team sensed more of a disconnect.
But for the Ravens, it’s about structures as symbols of the team’s importance in the community. It’s not about trying to really listen to fans about what has caused them to care less about a team they were fanatical about just five short seasons ago — so much so that after the Ravens won their second Super Bowl, Hall of Famer Ed Reed stood at the podium in front of a massive crowd and declared, “Baltimore The Football City.”
The point is, if that happened tomorrow, would a Ravens hero stand at the podium and declare “Baltimore the Football City”? Not so much.
I know Steve Bisciotti is an awfully bright guy. But after the Ravens’ off-season performance this particular off-season, I wonder if he gets what has really gone on with his fan base, or worse if he really cares about what has changed with his fan base.
Rather than investigate via outreach to the fans by way of focus groups and digging down to the core of an issue the team admits is affecting its fan base, the Ravens have elected to double down on fixing the team on the playing field and lowering some concession prices.
Even in that attempt, they have seemed more intent in pandering to their fan base rather than inquiring of it. Enter dynamic QB Lamar Jackson from Louisville, the team’s version of a five-hour energy drink. If the season-ticket renewals are down, no problem, we can fix that.
Maybe the team will get lucky with Jackson, and whenever he does get on the field he’ll be so good as to fix both the team on the field and whatever ails its fan base. But that is quite an expensive gamble to make on the fifth QB taken in round one. It certainly doesn’t seem to be the right way to rebuild a team that continues to be cringe-worthy when it comes to the paucity of playmakers on the roster.
Back to what ails the Ravens. To me, it all started with the extended lockout before the 2011 season. That prompted the Ravens to shift that season’s training camp to their Owings Mills training facility. Initially, the plan was to go back to Westminster in 2012, but the precedent had been set and there was no turning back.
Oh sure, the team put its best foot forward with having a training camp day at Navy, at M&T and sometimes at Stevenson. But gone was the intimacy the fans had on those lazy summer afternoons.
If you are a Ravens fan, ask yourself when was the last time you actually were in an in-person situation where you interfaced with one of the players on your favorite team? At the crux of this disconnect between the Ravens and their fans, there are more reasons than just that one simple issue I bring up. But, if I were the Ravens, I’d start there. That’s if they want to get to the bottom of it.
But by their actions and inactions, they seem to be casting their net on just the W’s and the L’s. Time will tell which of us is right.
Stan “The Fan” Charles is founder and publisher of PressBox.